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Could the Flat Salary Cap Spell Trouble for the Bruins?

Photo Credit: Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

According to several of the NHL’s top insiders, the salary cap will remain at $81.5 million for the next two seasons. Then, it’ll only bump up an extra $1 million for the 2022-23 season. Logically, this makes sense given how much revenue the NHL lost this season since they had to shut down in March. But, that doesn’t make it hurt any less for a lot of teams. Any team who is pressed up against the cap is certainly not happy about this. At first glance, the Bruins are among the teams who are in trouble because of the flat salary cap. But, I’m not so sure that’s the case. It certainly won’t be easy, but I think the Bruins will be fine despite the cap not going up. 

Bruins Luckier Than Most

For just one example of this, let’s look at how much is invested in each of those team’s top forwards and defensemen.

Bruins Laughably Low

The Bruins have Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak locked up for just a combined $19.6 million a season. They also had just $6.9 million invested in their top defensive pairing of Chara and McAvoy (more on why that could be even less next season later). That’s a total of just $26.5 million in their top five players. It’s a laughably small number considering how good those guys are.

Lightning Okay, But Not Great

Next up, the Lightning’s top line of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov combine to count $24.75 million against the cap. Victor Hedman and Jan Rutta make up Tampa’s top defensive pairing, and they count a combined $9.175 million against the cap. Please note, I’m not saying Rutta is one of their top two defensemen, but it’s easier for me to include him then it is to try and judge who’s second best. But anyways, all told, the Lightning have $33.925 million tied up in their top line and defensive pair (plus another $6.75 million in defenseman Ryan McDonagh). That’s not too bad, especially when compared to the Leafs as you’ll soon see, but it’s certainly not great. It will hurt their flexibility moving forward.

Leafs Absurd

Meanwhile, Toronto has a staggering $33.5 million tied up in just their top three forwards (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares). Please note, I decided not to add up their top line, because their top line is not all of their best forwards. Their top defensive pair of Morgan Reilly and Tyson Barrie combine for a $7.75 million cap hit. Unlike with the forwards, that’s a reasonable number. But, they have over half their cap ($41.25 million to be exact) invested in just five players (plus another $7 million in their next best guy, Nylander). That’s a recipe for disaster.

Lower Cap Hit for Top Players = More Flexibility Overall

Since the Bruins have so much less invested in their top players, they have a lot more flexibility from year to year. This allows them to make trades easier with their depth players because for the most part, they’re better and therefore have more value. This puts them in a far better position than the other two with a flat salary cap. At least they’ll have options if they need more cap space to sign a player.

Bruins Have a Fair Amount to Work With This Offseason

The Bruins have their work cut out for them this offseason with seven expiring contracts (4 UFA, 3 RFA). Krug, DeBrusk, Grzelcyk, Chara, Bjork, Nordstrom, and Miller are all in need of new deals. According to CapFriendly, they’ll have exactly $17,959,409 this offseason. It’ll be tight, but that should be enough to get everyone they want re-signed. Of the seven expiring contracts, I see five, maybe six, of them staying. 

Nordstrom Out, Miller Could Be As Well

Nordstrom would come back for a reasonable cap hit, as he carries just a $1 million one now. But, the Bruins have plenty of young players who could replace him for less. They even have enough older, experienced NHL forwards currently on the roster who could replace him. So, he’s expendable. While it doesn’t seem like much, his $1 million could go a long way in re-signing the necessary players.

Miller is the other player that I can see leaving. But, he is a unique situation given he hasn’t played since April 2019. It’s doubtful he’ll garner interest from many teams given that and his extensive injury history. The Bruins love his style of play, and it’s impossible not to feel bad for him after all he’s been through (namely the four knee surgeries) since first sustaining the injury. So, they may be willing to bring him back. His only chance to play hockey again could be with the Bruins, so he would probably come back on a league-minimum ($700,000) deal just to see if he can play again.

But, that being said, the Bruins really don’t need Miller. Odds are he’d be sitting in the press box most nights. Clifton and Lauzon have proven themselves in his absence. Plus, they already have Moore and Kampfer as experienced guys out of the lineup most nights. So, if it comes down to giving Miller another chance or making a signing to help the team, especially if it’s re-signing another player who’s up this offseason, they’re making the latter choice. As much as they like and feel bad for Miller, hockey is a business. They have to prioritize what’s best for the team over an individual.

Krug Due a Monster Contract

It’s absolutely no secret that Torey Krug is going to get paid this offseason. He’s turned himself into an excellent player at all strengths and ends of the ice. Plus, he’s one of the top power play quarterbacks in the league. On the open market, Krug could easily command at least $8 million, and probably around $9 million (see the below tweet for more on why I say that), on a long-term contract and get it. The Bruins really cannot afford that. But, Krug has said multiple times that he really wants to stay in Boston, and he’s also willing to take less to do it, as long as it’s still reasonable. 

I can see him going as low as $7 million to stay in Boston. But, they will probably need to hand out the max term (eight years) to get him to that, which Sweeney doesn’t like to do. I think it’s more likely that Krug becomes the highest-paid Bruin and gets a contract around $7.5 million for six or seven years. They could probably go as high as $8 million, but it wouldn’t be smart nor do I think it’s necessary. If Krug signs for anything around this, it gives the Bruins enough space to resign the rest of their necessary players.

Grzelcyk a Unique Situation

Grzelcyk is already coming off a bridge deal and ideally, he’d probably like to avoid another. But, the 2021 Seattle expansion draft is looming, and the Bruins will likely go with the 7-3-1 format. If Krug resigns, Grzelcyk will find himself exposed if he signs anything more than a one-year deal. So, if he’s smart and wants to stay with his hometown team, he’ll suck it up and take a one-year deal. 

It’s clear he loves playing for the Bruins, so it’s definitely possible that he does this. This will bring him to his first year of being a UFA. Once he’s a UFA, exposing him in the expansion draft won’t be a big deal. Seattle would frankly be stupid to pick a player who likely won’t want to stay and that they’ll own the rights to for just a few days. 

If Krug doesn’t resign, this is all a moot point, and Grzelcyk will probably get a mid-term contract. But, in the (I think likely) event Krug resigns, he’d be stupid to take one if he wants to stay a Bruin. If he signs a one-year deal, I see it coming in around $2 million, $2.5 million at the max. Even if he doesn’t, I don’t see him getting much, if any, more than that. His current cap hit is $1.4 million, and he’s improved since he signed that, so he’s due for a raise. But, he’s a third-pairing defender (albeit one who can play up in the lineup) and given the Bruins cap situation, it won’t be a crazy raise.

DeBrusk, Bjork Due Bridges

As for the rest of the players, DeBrusk and Bjork are both likely due bridge (short term, prove-it deals) contracts. DeBrusk might be able to ask for a longer-term deal as he’s established himself as a solid second-line winger. But, he wouldn’t be smart to. He’s been rather streaky throughout his entire career (he even admits it), So, if he’s smart, he’ll give himself another few years to become more consistent before looking to cash in on an expensive, long-term deal. I can see DeBrusk getting a two or three-year deal worth around $3.5 million a season. At the most, he’ll probably get $4 million a season. As I said, he’s a proven second-line winger, so he deserves to be paid. But, the Bruins should be able to use his streakiness to get him down to around that.

As for Bjork, this season was the first he was actually able to stick in the NHL. He had serious shoulder injuries and consistency issues in his first two seasons. Because of that, he has no business asking for a long-term deal. If he were to somehow get one, he’d be paid far less then he’ll probably be worth in a few seasons. A bridge contract allows Bjork a few years to prove that he can stick in the NHL and continue to improve and reach his potential. I see him getting a two or three year deal like DeBrusk, but he won’t get much more than $1-1.5 million. He just doesn’t have the resume at this point to demand much more than that right now.

Another One-Year Deal for Chara

Finally, it’s a foregone conclusion that Chara will take another one-year deal next season. He’s said he isn’t ready to retire, and I 100% believe him. It’s clear that he just wants to keep playing hockey. The Bruins have also made it known there’s a spot for him as long as he wants it. So, it’s safe to say he’ll be back. Given the stage he’s at in his career, I’m sure Big Z will take pretty much whatever is left over for cap space. He did it this past season, as he carried a $2 million cap hit. He’ll probably be willing to take even less than that if necessary this upcoming season.

It’ll Be Tight, But the Bruins Will Be Fine

Hopefully, I’m at least somewhat close in most of my educated guesses on these contracts. If so, the Bruins will be just fine next season and beyond. They’ve put themselves in a much better position than many other teams. They’re also extremely lucky their cap space and expiring contracts shook out the way they did. Contrary to what others think, I truly believe the Bruins will be able to resign Krug and keep everyone else. The numbers should work out just fine.

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

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